The Fermi Paradox: Imprisoned Planets

The Fermi Paradox: Imprisoned Planets

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This episode is brought to you by Fabulous! Imagine the day a civilization discovers the   starry night sky above contains billions of  billions of worlds awaiting their arrival.   Now imagine the day they realize  those voyages will never be made.   So earlier this week we were talking about Kessler  Syndrome, collision cascades around planets that   might make spaceflight very dangerous or even  impossible, and it is one of many things might   make it very hard for them to leave their world  to colonize space or potentially even be able to   contemplate the possibility. Some of these might  be natural causes, some might be self-inflicted   or even from exterior sources like an older  alien civilization quarantining a planet.   Now when we discuss the Fermi Paradox, the big  question of where all the aliens are, we often   emphasize that many solutions don’t work simply  because we wouldn’t expect them to be universal.   We call this Non-Exclusivity and it’s the idea  that while we would expect the ability to build   spaceships to be a trait exclusive to species  with a knowledge of basic mathematics and   physics, we would not expect the ability  to go into space to be exclusive to,   say, civilizations whose economic system was  capitalist, communist, or socialist given that   the space race was between the USSR and USA. Space launches and the science and engineering for  

them have been achieved and improved by nations  subscribing to all three approaches. So while   it might be that one of these systems was better  than the others for colonizing space, we would say   it was non-exclusive, any are capable, though not  necessarily equally capable. The same would apply   to various religious or ideological beliefs, and  of course to more mundane stuff like hair color or   how many arms or heads a given alien had. Often with a Fermi Paradox example,  

the proposed solution to the apparent paradox just  doesn’t hold up to scrutiny for non-exclusivity.   We just wouldn’t expect most planets life arose  on to have thick dust clouds that obscured the sky   so that the inhabitants never even  considered star flight or some debris   ring that made it a thing to contemplate  but only as an expensive form of suicide.   So while we will discuss the argument for some  of our cases today, many are transparently not   viable for a Fermi Paradox solution as they’d  be exceptionally rare and with no clear link to   inhabited worlds. And thus it is a pretty good  topic for one of our Scifi Sunday episodes too   as while each suggestion will be a  situation that could plausible come about,   they are probably more of interest as plots  for scifi novels than approaches for SETI – the   Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. As one such example, there are vast empty   regions of the Universe called Cosmic Voids,  and these spots are not empty of matter, indeed   they have stars and sometimes even galaxies in  them, but they are the rare oasis in the desert,   so to speak. In such a place, life might develop  on a world around a star that was so far from any  

other star that they would have to get to  late 20th century astronomical technology   and infrastructure to even be aware there  was a Universe beyond their planet and sun.   This is quite probably a case that’s already  happened, if life is decently common enough,   but it doesn’t really matter to SETI because  we are nowhere near any of those voids, and   looking for our first example of intelligent life  there would be like a person dumped in the middle   of New York City, trying to find an example of  intelligent life, and opting to leave the Atlantic   Seaboard entirely to hunt Antarctica on the off  chance they found McMurdo or one of the other   research stations there. There are vastly more  galaxies to search near us than these voids are.   This isn’t universal though, we can make a decent  case for Kessler Syndrome being very common or   inevitable. As I said we discussed that more  earlier this week and how civilizations might   handle preventing or removing those cascade debris  fields, but the basic concept works well for a   Fermi Paradox Solution. Especially given we have  only basic models of both those cascades and the   solutions for managing them, they may be worse  than expected and the solutions ineffective.   So civilizations start exploring space and  building up their orbital infrastructure,   and eventually the amount of litter up there sets  off the ruinous cascade we call Kessler Syndrome.  

The civilization, probably barely a century  ahead of us in tech at best, likely doesn’t   have any off world bases beside maybe their moon  and some simple outposts on their equivalent of   Mars or an asteroid mine. Space is already hard to  build in and now everything else they build cost   even more to armor and has a shorter lifespan and  it just seems that the more they move into space   the more resistance they face just getting  into orbit and keeping a presence there.   Such civilizations also have to  worry about intentional cascades.   Nutcases or lesser powers who want to  wreck things for those operating up there.   Blowing up satellites and orbital infrastructure  is vastly easier than building them   and the sad reality is that everyone who gets a  successful foothold in space and nearby worlds,   once exploited properly, become very powerful.  Rival entities might feel this sort of asymmetric  

preemptive warfare was their only real  chance to avoid being crushed later on.   And there is an option for stealth, as an example  a submarine with an antisatellite laser as a minor   part of its armament and a secret part of its  overall mission could be having its command staff   firing that laser at a satellite every  time it quietly surfaced in the ocean,   unknown to most of its crew even. It would  be very hard to prove anything happened.   Now again, we discussed managing Kessler Syndrome  last episode, and I can think of ways to manage   that submarine case too – I would not have  even suggested it otherwise – but it is not   hard to imagine ways in which Kessler Syndrome  could become a major and unsolvable problem   for civilizations, including it’s K2 version  that changes us from debris orbiting Earth to   debris orbiting the solar system in general. I wouldn’t call it a strong case as a Fermi   Paradox Solution, however we have to keep in  mind that none of our Fermi Paradox Solutions   really has an overwhelming case for it, and my  assumption these days is that at least one major   scientific concept we take for granted is wrong  or misunderstood so that we get a distorted view   of the landscape. I have no idea which, mind you,  or if it is any, but as an example, given that  

we do not have an orbital infrastructure right  now even though we would like to and have spent   hundreds of billions of dollars on space thus far,  we do not want to rule out that all these problems   facing us for developing space further do not have  easy solutions that will make it practical and   economically viable to colonize space. Kessler  Syndrome might be one such example of that.   Something like that could be self-perpetuating  too. Planets can have naturally occurring rings,   nothing is really stopping a world like  Earth from having ones as thick as Saturn’s,   but one theory for how such rings get maintained  is by cryovolcanic eruptions of material from   closer moons. And it is worth noting that many  artificial processes might have a similar effect,  

pollution and smog equivalents from your  orbital factories. We tend to assume once   you get to space things snowball out into the  galaxy but we might be jumping the gun on that.   Some time back in our episode looking at how Space  Colonization could save Earth, I pointed out that   not only would most interest in space colonization  need to focus on how Earth benefited directly from   it, but also that tons of our proposed benefits  from space colonization are a bit handwavey.   You don’t really need to colonize the solar  system, let alone the galaxy, to protect Earth   from Asteroids for instance, you just need some  big guns and tracking systems built in orbit.   And with that case in mind, I often  note that asteroids approaching space   faring civilizations isn’t a crisis  for them, it’s a free economic boon,   as they can just lasso it and use it’s  material for building infrastructure.  

Something like that could produce a ton of orbital  debris and pollution, but that doesn’t necessarily   mean they’d view that as a deal breaker. Sending  out wave after wave of tiny and expendable robots   to mine asteroids and bring the material back  into the cloud for dropping down to Earth is a   very viable approach. They might not care about  a satellite grid then either, potentially using   the cheap expendable robot eyes approach or simply  have improved storage for helium or hydrogen gas   to replace their satellites with non-orbiting,  geostationary pods floating a hundred kilometers   up, protected from debris by the atmosphere. We  don’t do that trick now because the tethers would   be hard to make strong and the gas would leak  through normal materials, but graphene appears to   solve both problems, being more than strong enough  and very good at storing hydrogen and helium.   So a civilization might just be enjoying  huge amounts of gold or uranium or whatever   being returned to their world and otherwise having  no orbital presence because the clouds of debris   just make it impractical to have stations or  manned ships being built and loaded there.   This notion of self-sustaining junk could  go further too, as civilizations constantly   rising and falling on worlds could conceivably be  building back up into space only to get crashed by   a Kessler Syndrome event or something parallel  like inevitable orbital weapon deployment.  

A few centuries later they get their civilization  glued back together and start launching ships and   hunting through the ruins of various old space  stations and habitats and eventually crash again,   and so on. This is also very plausible for a  full on K2 Dyson Swarm civilization as well,   with the system undergoing periodic cascade  collisions and disruptions and lots of big   megastructures left dead but repairable. Many  habitats survive but the debris kills trade and   disrupts communication and power collection.  They can't get enough sunlight because their  

thin and fragile solar collectors get trashed  by debris, and it results in a literal dark age.   We’re mostly focused on the idea of being stuck  on your homeworld but home system works too.   For that matter, there’s often concern  about how long artificial biospheres   and ecologies can last on space stations  that amount to being a small island.   That left alone, without trade between them or  the homeworld, various habitats would undergo   extinctions. Possibly all the way down to being  lifeless, but probably just to the most simple  

microbes and such, absent big critters, some very  simple biome. I don’t think it likely because   of how many methods a civilization could counter  such die-offs with, but one might imagine chaotic   periods in a dyson swarm causing such die-offs and  leaving only scattered pockets of civilization on   the homeworld and more isolated and self-sustained  habitats, from which the pre-built and mostly   intact dyson swarm needed re-pollinating  from every ten thousand years or such.   It is a good reminder that there may  be all sort of hurdles and roadblocks,   technological or psychological, to colonizing  space that we haven’t even encountered yet.   We won’t really know how clear the sailing is,  once we launch into space, until we’ve actually   made it to those new shores and established  long-lasting new communities on them that grow   big enough to launch more colonies and choose  to do so. Until then we just assume a lack of   known obstacles means there are none. Those might  tend to build up with each successive failure too,  

like you might try to head back out to space in  the 40th century AD only to find all the very   easy asteroid prospects have already been  mined and the mutated descendants of the   robots you used for that, while nowhere near  human-intelligent, still represented a large   scale and dangerous threat to those 40th century  ships. Or mutant human miners for that matter,   as you might have a million asteroid mines,  each with its own enclosed cylinder habitat,   all left in isolation for centuries  of biological and cultural mutation.   Now while the cyclic civilization collapse  notion is very popular in scifi, most wonderfully   discussed in Niven and Pournelle’s novel “The  Mote in God’s Eye” I feel obliged to say that’s   such cycles are mostly poetic, and often in  regard to collapsed civilizations that never   actually collapsed, but which still would only  matter if the whole planet had collapsed and   not managed to leave records of why. We explored  this more in our episode Cyclic Apocalypses.   Now on that subject, a very common suggestion  for worlds’ getting trapped is that if we did   burn out in some nuclear war or mega plague that  took our descendants centuries to dig out from,   then they would have to try to repeat what we did  but with smaller amounts of available resources.   On the one hand, yes you are going to exhaust  pockets of easily mined fissile materials like   uranium. On the other hand, no you won’t exhaust  your supplies of iron or aluminum. They make up a   sizable percentage of Earth’s surface, and while  dense pockets of ore might be gone, they mostly   just reassembled themselves into other things. A  big steel skyscraper is a perfectly good mine for  

steel a millenia later. Landfills and graveyards  become the new places to get mineral wealth from.   The Dying Earth Genre of science fiction often  shows us this, indeed in one of the best book   series from that Genre, the Book of the New  Sun, the author’s legendary knack for slipping   things in you don’t notice to future reads has the  protagonist encountering ‘miners’ on his travels   only for the reader to realize later  that they are graverobbers and the   concepts have become synonymous. You will not have exhausted all   your fissile materials, there’s just too  much uranium and thorium lying around,   and I doubt you will have managed to reassemble  your civilization enough to use them without   also having rediscovered the concept of a  breeder reactor. Then we’re talking about   millions of years of supply, though to be fair  the planet is expected to live billions of years.  

My personal hunch would be that any cyclic drop  in civilizations would have a period on recovery   directly tied to their population regrowth,  as they would probably be able to rediscover   knowledge from ruins without any real effort,  and even absent a diagram of a nuclear reactor,   or a single text on nuclear theory, simply knowing  your ancestors had such a thing would tend to   expedite rediscovery. Plus you would have examples  to engineer off of, we build reactors tough,   so their ruins would still be around for a very  long time. Possibly a plague that made people   dumber and required a hundred generations to  rebreed potential scientists and inventors might   have this effect, or some long-lasting anti-tech  culture burning books, but otherwise knowledge   should be lost minimally and easily rediscovered. Now usually folks focus on fossil fuels as the   missing quantity during a second cycle or third  or beyond. That’s legitimate but only to a point,   and not simply in that many millions of  years later these might be refreshed.   Ethanol is ancient, as a reminder it is simply the  chemical name for alcohol, and it is easy to make,   as our ancestors found. It is unlikely any  civilization, no matter how crushed down,  

is going to forget the antiseptic properties of  booze, and I really have difficulty picturing a   dystopian ruin of civilization where alcohol  was not considered a valued commodity.   You probably have to be a pretty determined  teetotaler not to see a mushroom cloud rising   and not want a stiff drink, and for your  descendants running around the wrecked   remains of your civilization catching rats to eat,  I’d imagine those taste better with moonshine.   Now alcohol’s effect on humans might not be  pertinent to aliens with different biologies   and thus might not be easily invented and kept,  but parallels might exist and other things burn   besides booze anyway, like wood. Other than that,  we may assume they know how to make ethanol,   that they have several million rusting ruins of  combustion engines to remind them why it's handy   as a fuel, and the thing about a half-wrecked  planet is that there’s probably lots of growing   space per person, especially for any crop you  won’t be personally eating and need to worry about   toxins, heavy metals, or radioisotopes getting  into. Corn may be a very edible ethanol feedstock,   but there’s tons of other crops that can grow in  absolutely dreadful soil that are medium-decent   feedstocks, not too mention options like oceanic  algae, and when you’ve got a whole planet and   only a few million survivors, you really have  no problem retooling for a ethanol economy.  

Or a solar one for that matter, if for  some reason the soil is ultra-dead.   That’s common to show in post-apocalyptic  settings after the bomb but there’s nothing about   nukes that cause soil to be dead for protracted  times, its just artistic license. And critically,   they already know it's possible to do ethanol,  nuclear, and solar, and should be able to get   at least one working, honestly all three. They don’t have to reinvent the wheel, they   see semi-intact bits of them everywhere. And while  I tend to think of large populations as a boon,   a recovering civilization with a low population  but tons of modern technology is quite capable of   saying “Hey, we can only support a billion people  on this planet, wrecked as it is, and needing half   the land for fuel production”. And a billion  people is more than enough to support modern   technology and infrastructure, probably you only  need 10 million if you’ve already got the tech   and need only minor innovation. Now even that’s  probably high but beneath that I think things  

might get a bit dicey, especially given how many  technological edges have to do with massive scales   to be advantageous, like trains for freight. One problem though is that ethanol isn’t very   energy dense, thus isn’t great for planes let  alone rockets. However, while we like kerosene   as a rocket fuel, hydrogen is actually better  overall, and no civilization is likely to exist   where there is a hydrogen shortage. Water can  be broken down for its hydrogen as long as you  

have an electric supply, as we were discussing  last week in the future of Solar Power, using   your peak solar in summer noon time conditions  to make hydrogen or hydrocarbon fuels is one   possible pathway solar technology might open, and  would be available to such civilizations too.   Now another case is where life evolved on  a world that’s a clone of earth but just   doesn’t have these resources. Maybe their world  is a billion years older and their supplies of   radioactive isotopes is much lower. Maybe they  didn’t have fossil fuels, because they formed   but their world is more tectonically active  and pockets tended to spill out and be lost.   Indeed a world with more tectonic activity has  plenty of other hurdles in creating civilizations.   As does one with very little such activity,  since their geological cycles bringing new land   and metals and minerals to the surface would be  hampered. Earth may occupy a very narrow window  

tectonically, a geological goldilocks zone. This one is a bit harder to justify because   internal combustion engines would just tend  to be a technology you would expect to see   developed some place a civilization was already  pretty close to agriculturally maxed out. Indeed   part of the attraction of coal as a fuel back in  the day was that it didn’t require devoting any   precious wood or edible biomaterials to burn. When  you’re a ruined civilization of a fraction your   former number, space is not at a premium, when  you’re already cultivating every acre, devoting   lots of your land to growing biofuels means you  need to lower your population, and it's hard for   me to imagine many civilizations being willing  and able to do that in order to have cars.   Maybe for horses though. We usually say a critter  like a horse or cow needs about an acre of  

pasture, though you can do way better by growing  a crop on that field than feeding that crop to   the critter instead, even if the crop is hay.  Biofuels tend to be in the low hundreds of gallons   per acre, varying wildly by crop and location, and  without going into depth, my educated guess would   be that there would be a strong advantage  in doing biofuels for tractors and freight   over dray animals like horses and oxen. So I think  even on such worlds you would still see that full   advancement on engine technology, it might be  slower but centuries are nothing in the grand   scheme of the galaxy and there’s no clock running  in regards to emptying fossil fuel reserves   or greenhouse gas issues. Technologies like  computers and aeronautics are unrelated to fuel,   beyond simply benefiting from the strength  energy abundance lends a civilization.   There are other possible shortage too though,  phosphorus being a potentially huge one as we   discussed in our episode on that, so we should not  rule out a lot of civilizations lagging because of   such things. The issue here is that I’m not sure  space colonization needs a take off velocity.   You can’t get an airplane in the  air until you hit a certain speed   and if you run out of fuel or runway  first, it never gets off the ground,   but I’m not seeing that analogy  applying to technology as well.  

A civilization that makes minimal improvements  over the centuries might need a million years to   get to space, but they have got it unless they  self-destruct. Which of course they might and   if it does turn out that there are events that  amount to half-lives on developed civilizations,   like a 50% chance of nuclear war per millennia  or 10% chance per decade of someone releasing an   artificial super-pandemic, then a civilization  cannot twiddle its thumbs getting to space.   And that does seem decently probable in  some sort of grand galactic actuarial table,   that left on a single world long enough some  sort of doomsday event will be engineered beyond   a certain technological point. In the absence  of such things though, they should have plenty   of time. If the cataclysms are small odds per  century or not severe enough to kill folks off   so that they can record the problem and pass  it on to future generations after a recovery,   then the odds will drop off as they  prepare to deal with it in the future.  

Otherwise, most things which slow  you down getting into space are not   insurmountable given time, and thus should be  surmounted. Let’s discuss some of those now.   In Douglas Adams’ epic Hitchhiker’s Guide to  the Galaxy series we encounter a planet, called   Krikit, where the inhabitants live in a dust  cloud around their world that hid all the stars.   Once that cloud was penetrated and they saw the  rest of the Universe they turned genocidal toward   it, but critically, much like my earlier example  of a star in the middle of a cosmic void, while   their interest in space and even technology might  be very hampered by an ignorance of astronomy,   they would still presumably invent radio at  some point and suddenly see that Universe.   We can definitely imagine scenarios where  worlds might have that dust layer obscuring   their vision too. Moreover, worlds with thick  atmospheres have this same potential problem.   Worse for them, they are likely to be worlds with  more gravity than Earth, and more gravity plus a   thicker atmosphere to escape through makes that  initial effort into space a much bigger hurdle.   High Gravity worlds and space  flight don’t seem to mix well,   and this gets worse when one contemplates that  there would seem to be a disproportionate rate   increase of oceans and atmosphere volumes with  an increase in planet mass or surface gravity.  

We’ll be taking a look at Super-Earths next  week, and will explain that in more detail there,   but for today’s purpose we can imagine worlds  with more gravity and thicker atmosphere,   ones furthering obscuring the stars as things of  interest to a rising civilization, having a harder   time getting into space. Indeed they might have a  lot less land to build launch pads or cities on,   with more water on such a world. Fundamentally though, even worlds   with twice Earth’s orbital velocity and escape  velocity can be escaped from by chemical rockets,   and that’s as high as those get on any plausible  scenario for a rocky planet with water and air.   And even past that, our Upward Bound series here  on SFIA catalogs tons of different ways to get   around the Rocket Equation and limitations of  chemical rocket fuels. It might take them a few   extra centuries to develop useful spacecraft,  but again, what is a century? Admittedly,   possibly a lot if the doomsday half-life issue  is in play, but otherwise not and such worlds   have no limitations on normal aircraft so much  aerospace technology would still be developed.   Truth be told that concern about planets  being covered almost entirely in oceans,   or even entirely in oceans, is a  bigger restriction. Life developing  

technology on an entirely water-covered planet is  potentially a hurdle unlikely to ever be broken,   see our episode about the hurdles of  Technology Without Fire for details.   There may be a very narrow window of conditions  that allow a planet to be at just the right mass   and temperature to have significant amounts  of land and sea and atmosphere without it all   evaporating away on lower gravity planets before  intelligent life arises and also without every   inch of surface being covered in water and ice.  Beyond that though, I would not say gravity was a   strong bar to spaceflight on bigger planets. With some big exceptions,   some very big exceptions. In his classic  novel Dragon’s Egg, physicist Robert L.   Forward proposes the possibility of life  arising on the surface of a Neutron Star,   where gravity is 67 billion times stronger than  here on Earth. Now nothing running on biochemistry   is emerging on life on a neutron star, there’s not  going to be any fossil fuels there, so it does not   matter that no chemical rocket is ever getting  you off a neutron star’s surface if life does   emerge on one somehow. A neutron star packs nearly  a million times Earth’s mass into a volume about  

20 kilometers across, and even light can’t pass  near one without being heavily bent as they have   escape velocities of about one third to one half  of light speed. Only antimatter offers a rocket   fuel that could escape one, though we shouldn’t  rule out that a lifeform somehow evolving at the   nuclear scale of neutron stars might have access  to that substance, potentially even naturally.   But outside of nature, such deep gravity wells  are an option, as worlds with virtually no   gravity well where space flight should be easy but  might turn out not to be. I keep mentioning cyclic   civilizations and it is possible to imagine  primitive civilizations existing inside giant   space habitats like O’Neill or McKendree Cylinders  without even knowing there was a Universe outside,   that’s a common theme for science fiction  about using such space habitats as spaceships,   generation ships or arks, and indeed is explored  as an idea in the twin series to Gene Wolfe’s Book   of the New Sun, the Book of the Long Sun. Folks  living in giant spaceships and not realizing there   is a universe outside, or beneath their feet in a  rotating habitat drum, is a fun idea to play with   but also a plausible one. Imagine a group, akin to  the Amish, who are often fine with the existence   of technology but don’t want it in their daily  life, and commissioned a large cylinder space   habitat with a benign AI to maintain it. A hundred generations later they forget what  

it is, and a hundred after that they forget they  disliked technology and pursue it again. Not easy   to develop technology on a world that’s artificial  and which was built to hide its technology too.   Hard to see an outside Universe when outside is  Down and your world is a giant cylinder or egg.   And there may be whole galaxy’s worth of  civilizations all around you, possibly peopled   by nigh-immortal folks or superintelligences  who were alive when your world was made   but consider it illegal or rude to poke inside  when you asked them not to when you built it.   I mentioned giant gravity wells  as a thing we might build though,   and one alternative for artificial worlds is  building big spherical shellworlds, and we have   contemplated building these around juggernauts  like neutron stars and black holes before. Huge  

hollow worlds whose surface looks like Earth but  with a neutron star or black hole in its center   for gravity and power generation. We call these  Mega-Earths, things which not only dwarf normal   planets but dwarf most stars, and which would have  surface areas a million times bigger than Earth’s.   On such worlds the surface gravity is the same as  on Earth, or the species homeworld, as they simply   build the shell that far from the central mass. However, the escape velocity of such an artificial   behemoth is vastly higher, one a million times  Earth’s mass, with a million times our surface   area, would have a radius 1000 times Earth’s and  an escape velocity the square root of 1000 higher,   or 32 times our escape velocity. That is not  plausibly within the realm of a chemical rocket,   but it is within the realm of various active  support structures we have discussed, and   whose technology they must have mastered to have  built that shell in the first place. Though future  

generations might have lost that knowledge I  suppose. Still, much like with a Niven Ringworld,   it is hard to imagine a structure with a million  times Earth’s living area not being able to   solve the problem of spaceflight with presumably a  million times as many people to do their science.   Now of course that is another way a  species could be bound to their world,   if their brain architecture just didn’t  produce those outlier science minds.   We don’t know that intelligence like ours evolves  much, as we discussed in our Rare Intelligence   episode, but even if it does, our world is not  technological because the average IQ is 100,   it’s technological because of that tiny fraction  who are 150+, which is less than one percent, but   if your brain architecture makes that degree of  outlier much rarer, that might basically leave an   entire world of very smart folks but none who were  STEM geniuses. We should not make many assumptions   about how brains are structured on other  worlds, they may not have any variation in IQ   between people, or a range a lot tighter than  we have, like our ranges for height or visual   spectrum range. Or their exceptionalism might be  in other areas of intelligence than what results  

in rocket science, or worlds of master poets that  when it comes to science just don’t know it.   They also might never leave their world in favor  of importing material in by robot explorers,   and it's worth noting you can build way bigger  than even those Mega-Earths if you want. Many   galaxies have giant black holes massing millions  of stars in their central region, and artificial   worlds in this class, shells or even multiple  layers of concentric shells was suggested by Paul   Birch for these galactic core worlds. These could  potentially be built even up to a trillion solar   masses, and in that Mega-Earth’s episode I coined  the term “Birch Planet” for those Mega-Earths in   this millions to trillion solar mass range.  I’m rather glad to see the term seems to have   caught on and spread inside scifi circles, as Paul  Birch is horribly underrecognized for his ideas.  

What’s neat about these titanic galaxies  in a planet is that they might contain many   quadrillions of times the living area Earth has,  especially the kind we might build around late   Universe juggernaut black holes that ate their  whole galaxy up. On those, time would run a good   deal slower, especially on the lowest levels  closer to the black hole in the basement.   Unfortunately these worlds are  easier to get to then to leave,   and civilizations opting to live on one are  making fairly permanent travel arrangements,   because even the smaller Birch Planets of just  a few million solar masses would have a trillion   times the Mass Earth does, a million times its  radius, and a thousand times its escape velocity,   11,000 kilometers per second or almost 4% light  speed. For one the mass of our whole galaxy,   that would be more like 40% light speed, in  the zone of those hypothetical civilizations   living on Neutron Star surfaces in Dragon’s  Egg. Easy to reach, nigh impossible to leave.   Mass Driver’s on a scale as big to those we  contemplate as Birch Planet’s are to our own world   might be needed to make flight off  such a world economically viable.  

Now I mentioned how black holes of many billions  of solar masses might become common in the Late   Universe and it is worth noting that all our  galaxies are slowly flying apart. Those galaxies   close enough to stay together will eventually  merge over the next hundred billion years, as in   truth they have been doing for billions already,  our galaxy is quite the cannibal, while all those   galaxies which aren’t close enough will have  disappeared over the cosmological event horizon.   Star formation will be about as common and  plentiful as now even then, it doesn’t really   start to seriously dip till well after the  trillion year mark. If we were in some galaxy  

that was the leftover of such mergers, and which  the first civilizations only arise then, then   they could look around a hundred billion light  years and more and see no other galaxies, they   might feel pretty isolated and assume that was all  the Universe was, one lone island of a trillion   stars not even a million light years across  surrounded by billions of light years of nothing.   Of course that’s still a trillion stars. But  between galaxies there are a lot of stars too,   ones ejected into intergalactic space and which  might not have any neighboring stars for thousands   of light years, currently. They wouldn’t really  see stars, they’d see the hazy blur of a galaxy   and maybe notice individual stars after  they invented really nice binoculars.   Still we could imagine them eventually realizing  there was a galaxy nearby and other stars even   nearer and deciding to send generation ships  off to claim those. They have a much higher   hurdle than we do to contemplate interstellar  colonization, but I suspect they would still try.  

However, those intergalactic ejects can find  themselves lost forever, one lone star not   gravitationally bound to neighboring galaxies,  and a red dwarf with a planet might easily find   itself stuck a trillion light years from its  nearest neighbor before it ran out of fuel,   with life arising on it and reaching  intelligence long after any real trace of   other stars and galaxies was erased. They might  never realize there had been a bigger Universe,   and travel to it is out of the question at  that point. Of course if such worlds exist,   they do so only in a future sense, a  thing to arise a trillion years from now.   Let us imagine one other case though for the day.  One very popular solution to the Fermi Paradox is   that we might be in a zoo or quarantine, where we  simply don’t know about the galaxy around us. In   practice this approach is better done by something  like an obscuring layer around that world to hide   the real Universe, as was the case for that world  of Kriket I mentioned earlier, someone hid the   Universe from them originally. This can be taken  to many degrees, like placing a minefield around  

a world that seemed natural, or even placing an  actual black shell around a world or an entire   solar system to hide the outside galaxy, indeed  you might put little fake suns on that sphere   like some of our ancestors envisioned might  really be the case for the celestial sphere.   Or you might upload their minds and  place them into a simulated world,   or if your technology permits it, you might place  them into a pocket universe you created. You might   even be kind and give them some artificial giant  world, McKendree Cylinder, Ringworld, Rungworld,   or a Mega Earth all their own, with another layer  or black shell above in their sky, as a very nice   zoo but a zoo nonetheless. Those are certainly  good ways to keep a civilization bound to its  

homeworld, or its new world anyway, if that’s your  goal, quarantine or containment or entertainment.   I don’t think such options offer a very good  solution to the Fermi Paradox, unless we’re the   ones in such a zoo, of course. One last thought  to close on though. I began the episode by calling   on everyone to contemplate civilizations that  realized how big the Universe was, then realized   it was denied to them, and it reminded me of scene  from Isaac Asimov’s novel the End of Eternity,   my favorite standalone novel by him and the best  time travel novel since HG Wells Time Machine.   In that scene we see people reacting  to the constant trial and failure   of their civilization of thousands of years  to get to space and establish themselves,   instead each time retreating. Trips to the  distant future show humanity simply dying off   because by the time they finally got out into  the galaxy every planet was taken by aliens,   not hostile but already occupying the real estate,  and they just settle down onto Earth and give up   and a million years later Earth is empty. It’s a depressing reality to face but if   a civilization can fall apart or die off  from seeing themselves trapped to one world   or if they are prone to blowing themselves up,  or if they just can’t be unified to a common goal   because they only have themselves  and their world to fight for or over,   it's not too hard to imagine civilizations on  imprisoned planets might be short lived ones.  

I don’t think it likely but that was Enrico  Fermi’s original solution to the Fermi Paradox,   intelligent life might be common but it’s all  trapped on its homeworld or system till it kills   itself off. The troubling thing is that it may  turn out that space travel is harder then we often   think and we won’t know till we have done it, but  it might be we and every alien world just finds   space colonization a path of constant setbacks and  impractical hurdles, of demoralizing defeats, and   even though there’s no dangerous debris around our  world confining us, no bars on our prison door,   we end up every bit as imprisoned, and doomed to  this one world and that not for long.   So we’re a little over a month into our new year  and chances are pretty good you have some New   Year’s Resolutions you made and often by February  a lot of those are already on the scrap heap,   or close to it, maybe yours or maybe a  friend or loved one. And a lot of times   that’s not because the goal is too hard so much  as remembering to work on it each day is tricky.  

A lot of times the difference between success  or failure on those or other life goals is just   getting those reminders until the habit gets  established, and that’s where our fabolous new   Sponsor, Fabulous, can help out. There’s very real  behavioral science behind how we develop habits   and what sort of hurdles or assistance can  stop or help you from forming new habits,   and Fabulous has built their app around the  science for building healthy habits that stick.   As an example, we all hear about the  importance of drinking enough water,   it is probably one of the most critical and  easy life changes to help with your health,   physical and mental, but most folks just  can’t get into the habit of drinking enough.  

I never did establish that habit until I was in  the Army and getting ready to deploy to a desert,   and we had reminders all over the place about  its importance. It was very difficult for most   of us to get into the habit even then and so  I greatly appreciated that the first habit to   work on that their app suggested to me to get used  to the program was a water drinking challenge.   So Fabulous focuses initially on simple and  easy habits, and recommends many to you,   but fundamentally it is about helping you  achieve your goals without any gimmicks,   it just focuses on setting up reminders and  coaching. It’s 100% personalized and lets   you go at your own pace, and it will help  you get back on the horse if you need to.  

You’re investing in yourself, and  that can be a hit and miss and rocky   process as you build new and better habits,  turn desired healthy behaviors into habits,   or work toward new personal goals. It doesn’t  just tell you to eat a healthy breakfast,   it walks you through examples of them and  scientific explanations of why that’s a good idea,   and it helps you incorporate what you love and  what’s good for you into your daily routine.   Only you can achieve your personal goals and  change your habits, but Fabulous has programs   to help you reach your objectives, develop your  motivation, and discover wellness best practices   to help you become more Fabulous. Start building your ideal daily routine!   The first 100 people who click on the link  will get 25% OFF a Fabulous subscription!   So this will wrap us up for another Scifi  Sunday, and we’ll be back again next month   for a look at Synthetic Life forms, what those are  and what it might be like to be one, drawing on   inspiration from the many science fiction stories  examining the concept from different angles.   Before then though, we have plenty of our regular  Thursday episodes coming, starting this Thursday   with a look at Super Earths, both in terms  of life evolving on them and our options for   colonizing them. And as we mentioned today,  there’s a chance those might be entirely oceanic,   and two weeks from now we will examine some  megastures and space habitats built with marine   habitation in mind, including a new ultra large  megastructure option we have not examined before.  

Now such megastructures take huge amounts of mass  to build and sometimes more than an entire solar   system might contain of a certain element,  so we’ll go into March looking at Nuclear   Transmutation options for civilizations that don’t  want to wait on supernovae to get more materials,   and of course such megastructures often assume  lifespans similar to the planet’s they emulate, so   on March 10th we will take a look at how you could  build a machine designed to last a million years.   Now if you want alerts when those and other  episodes come out, make sure to subscribe to the   Channel and hit the notifications bell, and if you  enjoyed this episode, please hit the like button,   share it with others, and leave a comment below.  You can also join in the conversation on any   of our social media forums, find our audio-only  versions of the show, or donate to support future   episodes, and all those options and more are  listed in the links in the episode description.   Until next time, thanks for  watching, and have a great week!

2022-02-16 14:26

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